The differences between a strong female character and a “Strong Female Character” are huge, and they are key. While the former refers to a well-rounded, three dimensional, flawed, and entirely human character who is consistently and effectively written, the latter refers to a Hollywood fuelled trope most often seen as a gun-slinging, cold, aloof, but eminently sexy and accessible heroine with big tits (or at least titties on display).
No doubt you can taste my distaste through the screen, but I should qualify;
Gun-slinging, big breasted, heavily sexualised female characters are not inherently bad; it’s all about how they are written.
The “Strong Female Character” is literary and visual equivalent of the real life “Cool Girl”; she has no weaknesses, she is cool, she is sexy, and she knows this. She is brutally honest, and has little or no sympathy for other women, generally speaking, or she is mostly silent, and she is available (but not too available because she RESPECTS herself, right?). She generally acts as a guide for a less experienced male hero who will usually learn from her, surpass her, save her, and then fuck her without regard for the fact that she would have had to put in years of blood sweat and tears achieve the position and respect they have usurped. The “Strong Female Character” does not care, however, as the hero teaches her to be feminine! And suddenly she’s a conventional heroine with a few more knives and a potent headbutt…
This character is the female equivalent to “Walker, Texas Ranger” in many ways, but she somehow ends up being the waitress/school teacher/cop he seduces too. Both character archetypes have their place, but few would argue they are well written or plausibly characterised in all but a few circumstances. (Weirdly enough I think Quiet from Metal Gear Solid is one example of a “SFC” that I didn’t hate; I could be wrong but she seems to be a satire, to me, and I appreciate the shit out of that).
Lets dispel this trope and send it back to the 70s where it belongs; let’s write strong female characters who are human, rounded, and believable. Here are some revelations you hopefully won’t find outlandish;
A strong female character;
- Does not have to be martially competent
- Doesn’t need to be unlikable or rude
- Does not need to be likeable or sweet
- Can be old or young
- Could be a mum
- Could be a Lesbian or Transgender woman
- Has no set sexuality (read here can be bi, lesbian, ace, poly-amorous etc)
- Has no set colour, religion, or race
- Will probably cry at some point in their lives
- Will not be physically perfect
- Can be disabled mentally or physically
- Can be weak, selfish, broken, or otherwise less than “Strong”
In short, the only requirement you must fulfil in order to write a strong female character is consistent and fully-actualised characterisation. The “strong” actually refers to the quality of the writing and characterisation, not the attributes of the character in question.
Other character-related posts;